A Letter to the New York Times Post About Hannah Neeleman

Dear Editor,

I read your recent post about Hannah Neeleman, the woman who won Mrs. World and goes by “@ballerinafarm” on social media, and was disheartened by how you chose to word her piece and the caption on Instagram. I have no personal affiliations with Hannah, nor do I follow her on social media, but her feature, in my humble opinion, felt like a subtle attack on motherhood, diminishing its beauty and the fact that mothers can, in fact, do extraordinary things.

Most of the comments on the post noted the quick postpartum recovery, which the piece seemed to perpetuate, which I agree is not the norm, but I also would not see it as impossible for a woman to do. In the case of Hannah, a woman who has given birth seven times before, whose body may already be familiar with the onset of postpartum pain and hormonal shifts, it is likely she has the ability to recover faster and may also be able to thank her genes for this. Regardless, we also don’t know how much she may have still been enduring during her time competing.

I strongly advocate for ample maternity leave and postpartum recovery, which is one of the reasons I left a former job that did not provide me adequate leave after giving birth and did not offer me remote or hybrid flexibility as a new mom. I support companies and institutions that make accommodations for mothers and fathers. I also support mothers who choose to stay at home and raise their children should the option be available to them, just as much as I support mothers who choose to go back to work and, in this case, compete in a pageant. If we’re really about choice, then all choices should be supported.

It seems as if society—led by powerful media outlets like the New York Times—aims to paint motherhood as a burden, or SAHMs as a form of oppression. On the one hand, you celebrate women who excel in their careers, mom or not, and on the other hand, you discredit the hard work of stay-at-home moms who are raising the next generation and whether they should be successful as well in business or personal branding, are setting an impossible standard.

Women can never win. Moms can never win.

If we “snap back,” we’re equally applauded for making the effort and disgraced for making it look too easy. If we choose to go back to work, we’re blamed for leaving our child and questioned as to why we would have kids in the first place if we can’t mother them 24/7. If we choose to stay at home and quit our nine-to-fives, we’re perpetuating gender roles. If we choose not to have children, then why call us women at all if we don’t live out our biological function to reproduce?

I have long looked up to the New York Times as a purveyor of truth, but this piece feels dishonest. It feels like a diminishment of motherhood and what makes it so beautiful: the fact that moms can grow life, raise life, and still have their own lives, e.g. passions, businesses, and creative endeavors.

I used to be in the entertainment industry and even competed in a few pageants, so I know firsthand the pressure to be skinny, stay young, and always look flawless. As a mom now, I do not want my daughter to grow up thinking her worth lies in the validation of keeping up with impossible beauty standards. But should she want to enter the industry one day, I would encourage her to pursue this path and remind her that her self-worth is not in how she’s scored or viewed, but in what she believes of herself.

I think Hannah is a role model not just for moms but also for little girls who grow up thinking their only chance at being successful in the pageant world or entertainment industry is when they’re unmarried, childless, and young. Hannah is an example of a woman who is proud to be a mother and compete on the world stage at the age of 33. She is an example of a woman who can be viewed as beautiful, smart, and confident, even after reaching a certain age or point in life. We do not see what goes on behind the scenes, behind her farm-life aesthetic, or behind the several births her body has miraculously performed. So, it hurts me to see your outlet use her life and story to purport the idea that mothers are not as admirable when they choose to stay at home, therefore enforcing “gender roles” or as believable if they just so happen to compete two weeks after giving birth and may come from wealth. After all, money does not absolve the challenges of motherhood and should not minimize the work it takes to build a brand and business.

Please, as you talk about motherhood and showcase mothers in different fields achieving extraordinary feats, be careful not to simultaneously take them down and color them according to a political stance or, in this case, their religious background.

I urge you to support all mothers, regardless of their choices and paths in life, and to empower women and moms who, whether they may live in the limelight or not, promote the value of hard work, nurture, and resilience.


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